In E.L Doctorow’s adaptation of “Wakefield,” Doctorow places the story in a first-person perspective of the main character Wakefield and the psychological growth that Wakefield experiences. Doctorow’s use of the character Wakefield helps demonstrate the strains the upper society has on the mental health of specific members of the class.
Doctorow shows the discontent of Wakefield’s life, whether it be through the usage of Wakefield’s descriptive distaste for seemingly normal things, even things as simple as a shower described as a “derision” (Doctorow 233). The usage of the verbiage by Doctorow creates an understanding that the reader can conceptualize the mental strain Wakefield begins to endure. Even the reiteration of Wakefield’s encounters with raccoons, the usage of how they relate somehow to Wakefield’s attitude towards himself.
Wakefield observes the raccoon’s behavior entering the attic, which creates a curiosity in Wakefield of the attic. Psychologically, Wakefield has somehow related himself to this creature, even stating that “more than the ape, it has always seemed to me [him] a relative” (Doctorow 234). As the story continues to progress, Wakefield becomes more like the raccoon, whether it be through scavenging through trash cans or hissing at other homeless people; Wakefield continues to take on his “new role” in solitude.
Wakefield’s continued solidarity, as he attempts to ‘vacate’ his old life, creates a sense of satisfaction. Wakefield becomes more aware of the things around him, such as “the pale light in the sky as the shy illumination of a world to which,” Wakefield had “yet to be introduced” (Doctorow 238). Allowing such things to be brought to light adds to the self-actualization that Wakefield is seeking. The seemingly ‘new’ beauty that was once unavailable to Wakefield because of the shackles of his old middle upper-class life. Wakefield continues to morph into the raccoons that he cautiously observes, almost becoming a member of the class. This seems to satisfy Wakefield’s ongoing curiosity.
Doctorow’s depiction of the story Wakefield, displays the psychological growth of the main character Howard Wakefield. The usage of symbolism through raccoons and the display of Wakefield’s view of the world around him, helped Doctorow depict the growth of the character throughout the story.
Doctorow, E. L. “Wakefield.” (2008) Doctorow: Collected Stories, Random House, 2016, pp. 230-266